Vice President Biden Tells Oncologists: "We Need You -- Now More Than Ever"

At the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting, the vice president called for a commitment to team science, improved patient access to clinical trials, and announced a new cancer genomic and clinical data-sharing resource.

Imagine if you all worked together. That’s the picture Vice President Joe Biden painted as he addressed a room packed with thousands of oncologists during the 2016 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

“The whole world is looking to you; the whole world is looking to you. Your success can literally change the world,” said Biden. “We need you now more than we ever have.”

Biden’s address centered around the White House’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative, which President Barack Obama announced during his final State of the Union address in January with a goal of accelerating existing research efforts and making sure new progress continues to be made to end cancer as we know it. The initiative aims to bring about a decade’s worth of advances in five years, making more therapies available to more patients, while also improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage.

Chosen by the President to lead this $1 billion initiative, Biden has been talking to doctors and researchers around the world — hoping to spark a change in the way cancer research is approached.

“No single oncologist or researcher can find the answer on his or her own — the good news is that today oncologists and cancer researchers realize they can’t do it alone either,” he told the packed room.

The vice president issued a call for action — for openness, to break down barriers both inside the research world and on a federal level when it comes to finding a cure for cancer. He asked the audience to not only expand research, but help create a system that rewards team science, rather than an individual. And, the vice president argued for a new system that helps patients that are in dire need of a clinical trial — to have access and not be forced to forgo one because they can’t afford the gas to drive there.

Biden reiterated his commitment to bringing together all the human knowledge and financial resources in this Cancer Moonshot project — a project that is a personal mission for the vice president. He lost his oldest son, Joseph Robinette “Beau” Biden III, to brain cancer last year after a long battle with the disease. Beau was just 46 years old.

“The unknown is frightening. I know from experience like many of you do — like every family who faces cancer — my family and I did everything in our power to learn everything we could about the cancer Beau, my son, was fighting,” he said.

Beau’s death inspired the vice president to fight for urgency in fighting cancer. He told his audience that we need the same urgency that occurred when the world was worried about Ebola.

Biden also announced the launch of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Genomic Data Commons (GDC), a first-of-its-kind public data platform for storing, analyzing and sharing genomic and associated clinical data on cancer.

“The aim of Genomic Data Commons is for researchers to have information at their fingertips about the relationship between abnormalities and mutations of genes and clinical outcomes,” he explained.

The database will be easily accessible to everyone through an NCI portal, he said.

He concluded his speech with a single plea: “We need you and your ideas to speed up this process in finding a cure.”

Biden will host the first-ever National Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 29 at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the White House is hoping to facilitate similar summits at the state and regional level, involving patients and cancer advocacy groups, as well as researchers, oncologists, caregivers, survivors, and technology experts.